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China probes new daycare scandal after ‘needle marks’ on toddlers

Chinese police have launched an investigation into alleged child abuse at a Beijing pre-school after parents said toddlers had apparent needle marks and were given mysterious pills, sparking outrage days after another daycare scandal.

Security personnel installed a cordon at the gate of the RYB Education New World kindergarten on Friday after dozens of curious onlookers had crowded outside the nursery, which was still operating.

RYB Education New World kindergarten

RYB Education New World kindergarten.

A day earlier, furious and angry parents had gathered in front of the gate to demand answers from RYB, which is run by a company that started trading on the New York stock exchange in September.

The official Xinhua news agency said children were also “reportedly sexually molested” but it gave no further details.

The Chaoyang district government said police opened an investigation after parents called the authorities on Wednesday to report the suspected abuse.

Authorities declined to provide more details about the allegations.

RYB apologised to parents and said it was cooperating with the police investigation.

needles

Photo: Weibo.

It is the third time in a year that one of its school’s faces abuse allegations.

“We are currently working with the police to provide relevant surveillance materials and equipment. The teachers in question have been suspended,” the company said in a statement on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

The scandal was widely covered by Chinese news outlets and sparked angry reactions on social media.

State broadcaster CCTV showed images of apparent needle marks on some children.

The magazine Caixin said eight children had such marks and that the incidents occurred in two classes with children aged between two and six.

Parents also said children were fed unidentified pills.

“I asked my child after I heard what other parents said and my child said that they had taken two white pills after lunch, and slept after eating the pills,” one father told CCTV outside the school on Thursday.

 ‘Fear in parent’s heart’ 

RYB Education directly operates 80 kindergartens and franchised another 175 in 130 cities across China for children ranging from newborns to six-year-olds, according to its Nasdaq listing.

Zhang Zhiqiang came to the nursery on Friday to get his two-year-old daughter out of the school after reading about the scandal, though she was not among the alleged victims.

Zhang said the school refunded him the 18,000 yuan (US$2,725) annual tuition fee.

“I saw the news online, so I want look for another kindergarten,” he told AFP. “I got my money back. It was very easy. They didn’t ask for a reason.”

But the grandmother of another nursery child said too many rumours were circulating and she was waiting for an official account.

“What kind of true teacher could hold a needle to give a child an injection?” she said. “Those rumours cause fear in a parent’s heart.”

RYB already had to apologise in April and suspended the head of a Beijing kindergarten after admitting that teachers committed “severe mistakes”. The Beijing news had obtained videos showing teachers throwing a child on a bed and kicking another in the back.

The People’s Court Daily reported that two teachers from another RYB kindergarten in northeast Jilin province were sentenced to 34 months in prison for jabbing children in the head, inside their mouths, on their legs and their buttocks with sewing needles in October 2016.

 Social media anger 

The latest allegations came a week after Chinese online travel agency Ctrip suspended two officials after footage emerged of workers abusing toddlers at a company daycare centre in Shanghai.

The clips showed young children of Ctrip employees being roughly handled and punished by being force-fed what parents claimed was spicy mustard at the company’s Shanghai headquarters.

Police detained three daycare staff for suspected abuse.

The RYB case triggered a new bout of outrage on Chinese social media.

“From Ctrip to RYB, what future do we have if we can’t even protect children, let alone the so-called Chinese dream,” one Weibo user wrote, referring to the slogan used by President Xi Jinping to call for a rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Another called for cameras to be placed inside every kindergarten classroom, saying, “It’s not just this one kindergarten that has a problem.”

China probes new daycare scandal after 'needle marks' on toddlers